On 25th March, we witnessed one of the most brutal, probably the most brutal lathi charge on workers in Delhi in at least last 2 decades. It is noteworthy that this lathi-charge was ordered directly by Arvind Kejriwal, as some Police personnel casually mentioned when I was in Police custody. It might seem surprising to some people because formally the Delhi Police is under the Central Government. However, when I asked this question to the Police, they told me that for day-to-day law and order maintenance, the Police is obliged to follow the directives from the CM of Delhi, unless and until it is in contradiction with some directive/order of the Central Government. The AAP government is now in a fix as it cannot fulfill the promises made to the working class of Delhi. And the working class of Delhi has been refusing to forget the promises made to them by the AAP and Arvind Kejriwal. As is known, on February 17, the students of School of Open Learning, DU went in sizeable numbers to submit their memorandum to the CM. Again, on March 3, hundreds of DMRC contract employees went to submit their memorandum to the Kejriwal government and were lathi-charged.
From the beginning of this month, various workers’ organizations, unions, women’s organizations, student and youth organizations have been running ‘WADA NA TODO ABHIYAN’, which aims at reminding and then compelling the Kejriwal government to fulfill its promises to the working poor of Delhi, like the abolition of contract system in perennial nature of work, free education till class 12th, filling 55 thousand vacant seats in the Delhi government, recruiting 17 thousand new teachers, making all the housekeepers and contract teachers as permanent, etc. The Kejriwal government and the Police administration had already been intimated about the demonstration of 25th March and the Police had not given any prior prohibitory order. However, what happened on 25th March was horrendous and as I was part of the activists who were attacked, threatened and arrested by the Police, I would like to give an account of what happened on March 25, why did scores of workers, women and students go to the Delhi Secretariat, what treatment was meted out to them and how the majority of the mainstream media channels and newspapers conveniently blacked out the brutal repression of wokers, women and students.
Why did thousands of workers, women and student go to the Delhi Secretariat on March 25?
As mentioned earlier, a number of workers’ organizations have been running ‘Wada Na Todo Abhiyan’ for last one month in Delhi to remind Arvind Kejriwal of the promises he and his party made to the working people of Delhi. These promises include the abolition of contract system on work of perennial nature; filling 55 thousand vacant posts of Delhi government; recruiting 17 thousand new teachers and making the contract teachers as permanent; making all contract safai karamcharis as permanent; making school education till 12th free; these are the promises that could be fulfilled immediately. We know it will take time to build houses for all jhuggi dwellers; however, a roadmap must be presented before the people of Delhi. Similarly, we know that providing 20 new colleges will take time; however, Mr. Kejriwal had told the media that some individuals have donated land for two colleges and he must tell now where are those lands and when is the state government going to start the construction of these colleges. It is not as if Kejriwal government did not fulfill any of its promises. It fulfilled the promises made to the factory owners and shop-keepers of Delhi immediately! And what did he do for the contract workers? Nothing, except a sham interim order pertaining to contract workers in the government departments only, which ordered that no contract employee in government departments/corporations shall be terminated till further notice. However, newspapers reported a few days later that dozens of home guards were terminated just a few days after this sham interim order! That simply means that the interim order was just a facade to fool the contract workers in the government departments and people of Delhi at large. These are the factors that led to a suspicion among the working people of Delhi and consequently various trade unions, women’s organizations, student organizations began to think about a campaign to remind Mr. Kejriwal of the promises made to the common working people of Delhi.
Consequently, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) was initiated on March 3 with a demonstration of contract workers of DMRC. At the same day, the Kejriwal government was informally informed about the demonstration of 25th March and later an official intimation was given to the Police administration. The Police did not give any prior prohibitory notice to the organizers before the demonstration. However, as soon as the demonstrators reached Kisan Ghat, they were arbitrarily told to leave! The police refused to allow them to submit their memorandum and charter of demands to the Government, which is their fundamental constitutional right, i.e., the right to be heard, the right to peacefully assemble and the right to express.
What really happened on March 25?
Around 1:30 PM, nearly 3500 people had gathered at the Kisan Ghat. RAF and CRPF had been deployed there right since the morning. Consequently, the workers moved peacefully towards the Delhi Secretariat in the form of a procession. They were stopped at the first barricade and the police told them to go away. The protesters insisted on seeing a government representative and submit their memorandum to them. The protesters tried to move towards the Delhi Secretariat. Then the police without any further warning started a brutal lathi-charge and began to chase protesters. Some women workers and activists were seriously injured in this first round of lathi-charge and hundreds of workers were chased away by the Police. However, a large number of workers stayed at the barricade and started their ‘Mazdoor Satyagraha’ on the spot. Though, the police succeeded to chase away a number of workers, yet, almost 1300 workers were still there and they continued their satyagraha. Almost 700 contract teachers were at the other side of the Secretariat, who had come to join this demonstration. They were not allowed by the police to join the demonstration. So they continued their protest at the other side of the Secretariat. The organizers repeatedly asked the Police officers to let them go to the Secretariat and submit their memorandum. The Police flatly refused. Then the organizers reminded the police that it is their constitutional right to give their memorandum and the government is obliged to accept the memorandum. Still, the police did not let the protesters go the Secretariat and submit their memorandum. The workers after waiting for almost one and a half hours gave an ultimatum of half an hour to the Police before trying to move towards the Secretariat again. When the Police did not let them go to the Secretariat to submit their memorandum after half an hour, then the police again started lathi charge. This time it was even more brutal.